Scientists may never find the elixir of life, but they are finding new ways to extend our life spans. One day, protecting our cells from aging may be as easy as taking a pill. New research from Mayo Clinic scientists (published in eBioMedicine) shows that a class of drugs — called senolytic drugs — may slow down the aging process by helping to clear zombie cells from the body.
What are senolytic drugs and zombie cells?
According to a 2020 scientific review published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, senolytics (or senolytic drugs) are a class of drugs that help clear out zombie cells. Zombie cells (which are called senescent cells in the scientific community) are cells in your body that “refuse to die.”
To understand this, it’s helpful to learn a few basics about a cell’s life. A cell typically begins as a normal one, doing its job to support the body. Then, it might suffer from some sort of stress — be it oxidative stress, a viral infection, or another factor. That stress triggers the cell to do one of three things: repair itself, die, or become a zombie cell.
Now, zombie cells aren’t all bad. Research from 2017 shows that cellular senescence (the transformation of regular cells into zombie cells) is a beneficial response to tumor growth. Instead of multiplying out of control and helping form a tumor, a cell will become a zombie and cease growth.
However, zombie cells in other contexts have negative effects. As you age, these zombies build up in the body. They can make it difficult for your body to repair tissue, and they can release chemicals that harm normal cells nearby. In fact, research links zombie cells to several age-related diseases, including atherosclerosis (a form of heart disease), diabetes, and lung disease.
That’s why Mayo Clinic researchers were so interested in studying senolytic drugs. If scientists could show that senolytics can clear out zombie cells in humans and increase our life spans, we’d all want to take these supplements daily!
A Closer Look at the 2022 Senolytic Drugs Study
The Mayo Clinic researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of senolytic drugs in the body. But before they could do so, they had to prove that removing zombie cells is a beneficial process.
The scientists used endothelial cells (cells in the lining of blood vessels), kidney cells, brain cells, mice, and human volunteers to perform their research. First, they found that the presence of zombie cells was harmful to normal cells, because the zombies decreased the amount of a-klotho present. A-klotho is a type of protein that protects against aging — so it’s important that the body has a healthy supply.
Then, the researchers found that a combination of two senolytic drugs: dasatinib (a drug that treats leukemia) and quercetin (a powerful antioxidant found in onions) increased the amount of a-klotho in mice. Finally, the team tested the benefits of dasatinib and quercetin in human volunteers with lung disease. Participants who took the drug mixture (as opposed to a placebo) saw their a-klotho levels increase.
Previous studies have shown that increasing the amount of a-klotho in mice increases their lifespan by 30 percent, the study authors noted in a press release. While these benefits might not translate over to humans, there are a lot of signs that they could.
Where can you get senolytic drugs?
So, what does this mean for you? The senolytic drug dasatinib isn’t available as an over-the-counter drug. But quercetin is available in supplement form (Buy from iHerb, $12.86). You can also ramp up your quercetin intake by eating more onions, apples (with the skin!), citrus fruits, and parsley. It can’t hurt, and these delicious foods are easy to find at your grocery store or local farmer’s market.
Note: Always check with your healthcare provider before trying a new supplement.
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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